Stability Watch

ANC paralysis becoming serious threat to SA’s stability

ANC promise.jpg

Student unrest has become the most critical symptom, but the paralysing factional war raging in the governing ANC has created conditions in which widespread civil unrest could easily be sparked in a deeply discontented society.

There are clear signs that the #FeesMustFall phenomenon is but the, for the moment, most acute symptom of a much deeper feeling of discontent present under the majority

The factional battles inside the ANC and its governing alliance have become so intense that leadership has just about become nonexistent. No one in government seems to be willing to take responsibility.

Also read: Was the rainbow nation ‘miracle’ an illusion?

For instance, the problems surrounding tertiary education funding and tuition fees have been around for many years.

More than six years ago, in March 2010, a report was released by the Ministerial Committee on the Review of the National Student Financial Aid Scheme (NSFAS).

Then, Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande commissioned a study into the feasibility of free tertiary education in the country. It was chaired by NMMU vice chancellor Derrick Swartz and its report handed to Minister Nzimande in December 2012.

In 2014 one of the platforms on which the ANC contested the general election was “free education for all”. One of their campaign posters declared: "Vote ANC, For Free Quality Education, Better Life For All!"

Whether the Swartz report inspired this slogan is not known, however, Minister Nzimande never made public the report titled “Report of the Working Group on Free University Education for the Poor”.

It first became public knowledge in October 2015 when the community activist organisation released it.

At the time, the Daily Maverick wrote that the report in part “reads like an academic treaty from the #FeesMustFall movement”. It notes: ‘The question that South Africans need to be asking is: What kind of a society are we trying to create? And the answer to that question is unequivocal: A society that is socially just.’”

Also in October 2015, as the crisis on South African tertiary campuses intensified, President Jacob Zuma announced that he planned to meet with student leaders and university administrators. The net result was no fee increase for this year. But there was not a word about a longer term plan to deal with the problems of higher education.

Another commission and task team

On 22 January 2016 the terms of reference of yet another Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (Fees Commission) were published in the Government Gazette. Established by President Zuma to examine eight focus areas, including South Africa’s post-school education and training landscape and the current funding of higher education and training institutions, it was tasked to report within eight months of its proclamation – thus 22 September.

The commission called for first submissions to it to be made in the second week of May. It started with public hearings on 10 August, barely four weeks before it was supposed to deliver a report. Announcing the start of the hearings it, however, said in a statement that “since it was established in January, the Commission has been meticulously studying past and current legislation relevant to both basic and higher education & training in South Africa.

“This includes all policies, legislations, reports and recommendations made by previous Presidential and Ministerial task teams.

“It was also during this time that the Commission received and processed more than 180 written submissions from all stakeholders in the higher education and training sector.”

In the meantime, the crisis on campuses was building up to a fever pitch and they were slipping into chaos. Several universities had to close their doors in the last three weeks as a result of disruptive and sometimes violent student demonstrations.

Nzimande passes the ball

On 18 September, while disruptive and increasingly violent protests on campuses were escalating, Minister Nzimande passed the ball to university administrations – announcing that they could increase fees by up to 8%.

This was fat in the fire for protesting students, and other organisations, like labour federation Cosatu, jumped on the bandwagon. So did the Economic Freedom Fighters and other groups, including the ANC’s own youth wing, which called on the party to discipline Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande for his 8% fee increase announcement.

In the meantime, those who desperately want to complete their studies or teach students have started counter-protests of their own.

The South African society is increasingly becoming deeply divided over the protests, making for a very explosive situation.

Symptomatic of the atmosphere, AfriForum Youth Tuks started presenting  self-defence training and information sessions to students of the University of Pretoria (UP).  

Minister Nzimande seems to be almost recklessly feeding this situation and stoking the fires by provocatively claiming that students have no reason to protest and encouraging other groups to actively oppose the students.

At a trade union occasion last week he also said he wished “to urge parents to stand up and help us deal with the current situation”.

Also readDanger of widespread South African unrest escalating

Interestingly enough, at the same occasion he floated the idea that the South African Communist Party and trade unions should keep their options open to contest the 2019 general elections under their own banner.

Security issue

In the meantime, responsibility for security of students, staff and infrastructure seems to have also been shifted onto university administrations. Minister Nzimande at another occasion implied it when he said his department would “support” universities in every effort to secure institutions and students against violent demonstrations.

The vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg (UJ), Ihron Rensburg, also last week revealed that the university has spent up to R15m on private security services across its four campuses since the Fees Must Fall protests started in October last year.

With this come all the dangers of effectively outsourcing public security responsibilities like crowd control to private sector institutions – something for which they are ill equipped or trained.

The private security industry regulator has warned against security guards being put in the frontline of dealing with student protesters. Mpho Mofikoe, deputy director of the Private Security Industry Regulatory Authority, said: “It is critical that the police are present when there is a crowd that has to be managed. Crowd management is the responsibility of the police.”

After controversy erupted following incidents between private security guards and protesters at UJ, Police Minister Nathi Nhleko belatedly said that the “police are ready to deploy additional resources to universities to contain the situation if needed” (our emphasis).

Lame duck government

To what extent the Zuma government has become a lame duck one was illustrated by the fact that both the Wits and UJ had to call on President Zuma to intervene on the raging Fees Must Fall campaign.

News24 reported that one vice chancellor told them “Zuma has been missing in action, as some universities are forced to shut down and others increase private security to prevent protesting students from interrupting lectures”.

Rensburg is quoted as having said: “All I can say is universities can’t solve these problems by themselves, but neither will shutting down universities. We are faced with a situation where we need national leadership.

"We need the president to lead; we need to see a unified leadership in Cabinet, in the president to provide innovative solutions to the situation. I don’t think we have answers at all, except to talk and engage.”

These are dangerous times and it remains to be seen if the country can afford to wait for the 2019 election before a possible change in the leadership of the country to avoid a full-scale civil revolt.


by Piet Coetzer

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